September on the Delaware

Ah September, still the gentle sunshine of summer lingers, though the air becomes crisper each day. Even the infernal Japanese Knotweed adds color to the river banks, enhancing the glory of autumn along the Delaware.

September seems a perfect time to float the wide Delaware, to enjoy the cool morning air and stretch out in the warm sunshine of afternoon. The rush of springtime has passed, and but a few boats will be encountered along the way. Fast fishing? No, certainly not in this year of sparse hatches, so why hurry.

JA and I headed out on Monday morning, looking to enjoy near perfect weather and prospect here and there with a dry fly. We were surprised to find dimpling trout before I had even gotten used to the oars. Urgency crept into our consciousness, as the first cast had the trout shying from our intrusion, rising further from the boat with each cast thereafter. We had rigged with larger terrestrials, not expecting a morning rise in flat water. Olives, scattered tricos? We saw something here and there, but the vantage point from the drift boat makes it tougher to see small insects in the film. The mystery remains…

Substantial reservoir releases and still more rainfall has made late summer a more comfortable season for the trout in the Mainstem, and we were hopeful that the cold water would spawn a bit more insect activity. Isonychia, Hebes, tiny olives and pseudos are the hatches of September, and we looked for the cloudy forecast to bring substance to our search.

Spending a day in the drift boat with a good friend is reward enough for the effort behind the oars. We talk, we laugh, we fish. In short, we enjoy life on one of the country’s most scenic rivers, with the possible bonus of a high flying Delaware rainbow, or a broad shouldered brown.

A postcard perfect day in May found me afloat with another friend. (Photo courtesy Andy Boryan)

It was still early in our drift when I heard my name called from a passing boat. Lee Hartman, one of the river’s very first and most venerable guides was out with a pair of anglers. They drifted past with salutations, and I joked with JA that we seemed to be fishing the same spots, figuring I must be doing something right. Lee’s boat would remain in sight for hours. They fished quickly, there being little but experience to direct an angler’s casts. If there was an opportunistic trout about I’ll bet that Lee got him!

Afternoon brought a mid-river lunch break, and renewed hope for a mayfly sighting. The isonychia dries were knotted to our tippets as we drifted through the riffles, casting to the boils around the scattered boulders. John drew the first take, and played a Delaware bow to the boat, raising our energy level immediately. My isonychia drew interest in the next trailing current, though not until my drag free drift ran out. The fly twitched slightly with the onset of drag, the trout inspired to take it just as I relaxed for the pickup. My hookset was no thing of beauty, though the trout obviously had the fly, taking it around one of those submerged rocks and jumping ten feet upstream from the point my line entered the water. A good fish, he surprised me by opening my hook, just when I thought I had him under my control.

Got him under control now; only a matter of time before… he opens up my hook and escapes! (Photo courtesy J. A.)

And though we hoped those first two hookups were a preamble to an afternoon of drifting Halo Isonychias from one episode of rainbow acrobatics to another, it was not to be. The most anticipated riffle had a couple of small trout toying with JA’s fly, while my casts proved fruitless. Success eluded me until at last we floated into the Rainbow Pool, and JA pointed out a dimple to our south.

Just as a quiet September afternoon blossomed there two years ago, so once again a looked for fall of flying ants brought dimples to the surface. Ah, but this time they were cruising, passing within casting range momentarily, then retreating, taking the tiny ants trapped and dying in the film where they found them. I managed to intercept one of those crimson flanked ghosts, and my rod bent with his drive for the bottom. A bit more finesse in the handling this time, less the ant’s size eighteen hook meet the same fate as the Halo’s twelve.

JA handled the net deftly when the time was right, then captured the moment with his trusty phone.

A little faith and a flying ant. (Photo courtesy J. A.)

A trout for each of us, a sparing gift some might think, though any gift from this river is accepted fondly. Let us not ignore the gifts of sunshine and friendship, of the anticipation of the cast, and the sight of that first tinge of color along the mountainsides. These are gifts the river bestows with the gentle rocking of the current and the sound of quicksilver.

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